Octopuses starve themselves

It is a behavior that draws the attention of biology. After giving birth, octopuses starve and mutilate themselves. Even in captivity. Because?

Octopuses have the ability to experience emotional pain and complex inner grief. It can come through loss, anxiety or downright fear. They may feel sadness and other feelings. But female octopuses deprive themselves of food after giving birth. What is this about?

Octopuses starve themselves after giving birth.
Octopuses starve themselves after giving birth.

Altered hormones

Even those specimens that have always lived in captivity do it. The origin of the problem could be in an optic gland similar to the 'third eye' of human beings. Female octopuses undergo significant hormonal and emotional changes after giving birth. This leads them to modify their metabolism naturally.

The behavior was recorded, specifically, in octopus mothers of the species Octopus hummelincki. They are known as 'bumblebee octopuses'. They have hormonal alterations that affect an optic gland similar to the human pituitary gland. The hypothalamus regulates the other hormones of the body. The study appeared in Current Biology. Female octopuses undergo “a massive change in cholesterol metabolism.” This causes their steroids to alter drastically, leading them to take harmful actions—even against themselves.

With cholesterol outside normal limits there are serious consequences on longevity and behavior. “It's involved in everything from the flexibility of cell membranes to the production of stress hormones. “It plays a role in this life cycle process,” says the lead author of the study.

Cholesterol and altered hormones upset this species.
Cholesterol and altered hormones upset this species.

Madness and death

During pregnancy, mother octopuses generate more pregnenolone and progesterone. In this way, it is guaranteed that their eggs and themselves remain well nourished until the moment of giving birth. But cholesterol goes up. After that, the octopuses starve themselves.

“What's surprising is that they go through this progression of changes where they seem to go crazy right before they die,” the team says. Between self-mutilations and lack of food, the females lose their lives without remedy. The authors seek to compare this behavior with that of other octopuses after giving birth and throughout the gestation process.

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